05/02/2008

2008 Ontario Small Urban Municipalities (OSUM) Annual Conference and Trade Show, Georgian Manor Resort, Collingwood, Ontario. May 2, 2008.
Doug Reycraft, AMO President and
Mayor of Southwest Middlesex
May 2, 2008, 8.15 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. 
Georgian Manor Resort, Boardroom
10 Vacation Inn Drive
Collingwood, Ontario

AMO President’s Speech at the Ontario Small Urban Municipalities (OSUM) Annual Conference and Trade Show

(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.  

The theme of this conference touches on one of the most pressing issues for municipalities today – building a sustainable community.

This is a challenging task for municipalities of every size. It can be a particular challenge for small urban communities where growth often equates to dramatic change – and even more so if you’re experiencing a plant closure.

The balancing act between either of these circumstances is not easy. 

Community vision, long-term planning, and the application of good lessons learned by peers are mandatory.  However, the success of even the best laid plans depends on a sustainable match between municipal revenue and municipal responsibilities. 

This has been the key focus of AMO’s work in recent years. I believe the future of Ontario’s municipalities – and by extension all Ontario – depends on our ability to achieve that sustainable fiscal balance.
 
Working hard and working together – municipally and provincially – is the only way to get there. I think it’s fair to say that today the Province understands this. We’ve achieved more together in the past year than in the entire decade before it, maybe even in two decades.

That kind of progress depends not only the political will to develop a productive partnership but also on advocating sound and practical changes to public policy.

The Premier’s Office has demonstrated genuine interest in developing a cooperative partnership, which we solidified through the Memorandum of Understanding process. AMO responded to the opportunity with hard work, practical recommendations, and at times, a certain amount of patience – and it is paying off.

Through AMO’s $3 billion gap campaign, municipalities sent a powerful message that sustainable funding, infrastructure investment, prosperity and quality of life all go hand in hand.  
 
The obvious extension of that fact is that all three orders of government should be working together to achieve them (although, that doesn’t always appear to be the case).

The Ontario Government has taken this to heart. And this spring’s Provincial Budget was a powerful indication of that.

It included:
• The phased upload of the costs of the provincial Ontario Drug Benefits program and Ontario Disability Support Program.  Once fully implemented in 2011, this step will mean municipal tax payers will not be sending $935 million to the province each year;
• Guaranteed stable funding for the 2008 Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund;
• An additional $400 million in infrastructure funding for roads and bridges and $450 million through the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative, and, if funding is available;
• Dedicating a portion of a 2007/08 provincial budget surplus toward municipal infrastructure funding on a per capita basis.

These announcements have been informed by our work with the Province on the Provincial- Municipal Fiscal and Services Delivery Review.  We are working together – which is good news for taxpayers and for Ontario’s competitiveness. 

I believe in giving credit where credit is due – and the Province deserves credit for the strides it has taken towards a more sustainable provincial-municipal fiscal framework. But everyone in this room deserves credit as well.

Municipalities are succeeding because we are working together to promote policies that are based on reliable information, good public policy, and pragmatism.  We succeed because each of us advances issues in our own communities and spreads a unified message that simply cannot be ignored.  

Today, the public, and politicians of every stripe, recognize that diverting municipal resources from core municipal services to subsidize provincial programs is simply bad public policy.  

Achieving that recognition would have seemed an insurmountable task not too many years ago.  However, by standing together and staying focused on our common goals, we are achieving far more together than we ever could as individual communities.

The Provincial-Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review will release this spring consensus-based recommendations on how to make sure that both orders of government can deliver quality services affordably and accountably. 

As we enter the last leg of work on the Review, it’s more important than ever that we continue to stand together.  It will also be important to keep our perspective on both our short- term and long-term objectives.

The process has taken time. That is not surprising given the complexity of the issues – and the nature of our 445 municipalities.

Ontario is large and diverse. It’s important that we take time to incorporate reliable information and analysis to get the fundamentals right for all municipalities.

The announcement that the costs of the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Drug Benefits Program would be uploaded was a key milestone in that process – and a significant one. It is not the end of the journey.

Ultimately we are working towards a package that provides a much better fiscal framework than we have today.

That framework needs to somehow deal with not only what municipalities pay for social service programs, but also the multi-billion a year municipal infrastructure deficit that has accumulated, in part, as a result of current fiscal arrangements.  

We also know there are other matters to address, such as farm tax, court security, services to crown lands and so on.

We also know the fiscal condition of the Province is not the same as when the Review started.
  
And to be sure, I don’t think anyone could reasonably expect that the Review will solve all of our problems.  

It certainly will not solve all of our problems overnight.  

And, in some areas, I’m sure the province and municipalities will still agree to disagree.

Each municipality’s challenges are unique but we all share one thing equally – the interests of our property taxpayers.  

And no two municipalities are affected exactly the same by the current fiscal relationship.  So advancements in any one of these areas will affect different communities in different ways.
 
But I urge each and every one of you to keep your eye on the goal and to not be distracted by perceptions that your neighbor is more or less deserving, or perceptions that someone else may be getting a better deal. We will need to keep looking ahead at our goal, not looking sideways at our neighbours.  

At the end of the day, we need a new fiscal framework:
• That makes sense for everyone;
• That is equitable and accountable; 
• That focuses limited resources where the need is greatest; and 
• That rewards the innovation and the leadership that many municipalities have shown in the face of existing arrangements that simply do not work.

Municipalities are expecting a lot from this Review. We want to turn the page on an era of unsustainable provincial- municipal fiscal policy.  At the same time, one thing we can’t expect it to do is to erase the impact of history.   

Years of deferred investments have taken their toll on our roads, and on most of the systems and facilities our communities need to remain vibrant and competitive.

While there are varying estimates of how big the municipal infrastructure deficit is, all reports are unanimous in their conclusion: 
• the deficit is too large for one order of government to bear alone; 
• it’s too large to address in one generation; and
• the burden will become untenable if we don’t take immediate action to begin addressing the urgent need for predictable and significant investments. 

A commitment to long-term, multi-government funding for infrastructure remains an imperative.  The 2008 Federal Budget commitment to make the Federal Gas Tax a permanent source of funding was an important acknowledgment of this.  

This year’s $375 million for Ontario’s municipalities becomes almost $750 million annually next year – and it’s permanent!
  
This funding has already supported more than 900 green infrastructure projects since its inception in 2005.

Predictable and entitlement-based, this funding is making a real difference in our communities and it’s our responsibility to make sure that our communities know it. It’s also important to make sure that the Federal Government has reason to believe their significant financial support is appreciated.

When gas tax funded projects are planned in your community, please consider the importance of holding a promotional event, such as a groundbreaking, ribbon cutting or media tour of the new investment. And please remember to invite federal officials to participate.  AMO’s gas tax communication kit will help you do this.

We need to remind Canadians that these are investments in communities, in Canada’s prosperity, and in jobs.
 
Partnering to amplify a message is one way that municipalities gain strength through numbers.  Partnering to create helpful tools and leveraging economies of scale is another.

In recent years, AMO has developed a number of programs designed to put our members on a stronger footing in the face of change.  These have included municipal training sessions, and our electricity procurement program.

The new Energy Services Division of AMO’s Local Authority Services is offering new programs to help Ontario municipalities cope with rising energy costs and environmental impacts by developing dynamic procurement plans and integrated conservation and demand management regimes. 

If you didn’t visit the LAS booth at the trade show, contact LAS staff to learn more about these exciting new programs.

Ontario municipalities are in a period of transition – and transitions are never completely seamless.  

We have before us an historic opportunity to lay the groundwork for a fiscal and policy framework that delivers increasingly better results for citizens and communities. 

We are a diverse Province. That diversity is one of our greatest strengths – and it can also be one of our greatest challenges.

Despite the diversity, municipalities north and south, urban and rural, share the common goals of good government, sound infrastructure and sustainable fiscal architecture.  

I believe we are on the verge of implementing systemic changes that will benefit property taxpayers everywhere.

Our challenge today is to stay focused on that fact in order to secure a framework that not only benefits those taxpayers, but also supports a safer, more competitive and more prosperous Ontario. 

Thank you and enjoy the conference.